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Topics in Literature and Society: The World of Work

ENGL 105.601

Studying and writing about work is a relatively new enterprise, one that has produced an explosion of data, theory, manifesto, critique, fiction, memoir and dream. Readings will include a wide variety of texts: fiction, poems, memoirs, essays, films, photographs and ethnographies. We’ll also read a few key texts in the sociology of work, including Marx, E.P. Thompson’s examination of time and work, and Frederick Taylor’s studies of motion and management.

We’ll first look at work as labor and, sometimes, burden. The two key texts are Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft and Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work.  We’ll also read portions of such texts as Arlie Hochchild’s Second Shift, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and Studs Terkel’s classic Working, as well as narratives of war, factory labor, food service and undertaking. (Yes, the work with bodies.) We’ll also read poems and watch Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

Next, we’ll look at work as a source of energy and joy. We’ll read some classic essays by women exploring the nature of work in art and science, and some recent work on the creative life, from choreographers and poets to woodworkers, all of whom find deep satisfaction in their very hard work.

Reading assignments will be equivalent to a book (approx. 200 pages) each week.  Readings will be drawn from a combination of books and pdfs. Writing assignments will include methods and genres from both the humanities and social sciences. You’ll write short pieces in response to the readings, a reflective piece on your own work history, a questionnaire and an oral history of a worker.  There will be a take-home final. 

This course fulfills the Interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Science Requirement (Sector IV)

fulfills requirements
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major